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Close to the north-eastern tip of Iceland lies the mythical and colossal horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. The deep depression contains caves and strange rock formations, a thick forest, and a small lake, all surrounded by the canyon walls that tower above.

How to get to Ásbyrgi

Taking the road east from Húsavík about 80 km, running on the same circuit as the Diamond circle, lies Ásbyrgi. The area, especially if one takes the Diamond circle, is home to many natural wonders. The gigantic and powerful Dettifoss waterfall, as an example, is only a short distance away, along with the other wonders of Jökulsárgljúfur. Ásbyrgi, however, is quite a unique location, with nothing else quite like it in Iceland.

Massive canyon

Ásbyrgi is a canyon of monumental proportions. It is 3.5 km in length and stretches to 1 km wide. The canyon walls rise to a massive height of 100 meters on either side. From the entrance to the midpoint, the canyon is divided in half by a huge rock formation known as Eyjan (the Island). This formation stands 25 meters tall and provides quite the platform to view the canyon from in all its majesty. Altogether, the canyon itself and Eyjan that divides it form the shape of a massive horseshoe.


Viking age

Due to its shape, Ásbyrgi has been heavily mythologised since the Viking Age. As the story goes, Odin, the father of the gods and the king of the Ásir (Aesir, the name for the Nordic pagan pantheon) had an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir. On one of his journeys through Miðgarður (Midgard, the mortal realm), Odin, on his horse Sleipnir stepped down on Iceland with one of his huge hooves and left the deep depression behind, which has since been called Ásbyrgi. The name itself relates to the story, as it means the shelter/fortress of the gods.

Ásbyrgis formation

As enchanting as that story is, we now know a lot about Ásbyrgis formation. The canyon is believed to have been carved into the earth by two catastrophic glacial floods emanating from the Vatnajökull glacier. The first flood has been dated back to about 10 thousand years ago and the second about 3 thousand years ago. Thankfully these occurred long before the human habitation of Iceland since floods of this magnitude would have been apocalyptic in scale. The result of these floods is one of the most amazing natural wonders in Iceland.

Otherworldly place

Ásbyrgi canyon is an otherworldly place. Whether to walk through or take a drive, the colossal canyon walls make you feel tiny. The canyon floor is also heavily forested with many species of trees and is home to a population of arctic foxes. At the bottom of the canyon there is a tranquil pond called Botnstjörn (literally meaning Bottom Pond) home to various bird species. Ásbyrgi is a must-see location in the northeast, a place of epic proportions and calm natural beauty, truly a place of the gods.